Professor Robert KC Johnson Criticises Pro-Churchill Petition and My Response (Updated to Include Comment by Professor Dean Saitta).


Robert KC Johnson

Teachers for What?

Tim (all religious people are "moral retards") Shortell appears to have found a new calling–serving as web/blog master for a new site called Teachers for a Democratic Society. A few days back, Ralph mentioned the group's new crusade, a petition on behalf of Ward Churchill. Brooklyn provost Roberta ("teaching is a political act") Matthews will be pleased to see that the college is substantially over-represented, with nine signatories.

While I oppose Churchill's dismissal–when schools use systems designed to hire "diversity" ideologues, they get what they deserve–the petition is quite remarkable: it sharply criticizes Colorado's report, on grounds of an "unreasonably broad and elastic definition of 'research misconduct.'" In short, the "Teachers" seem to have no problem with Churchill doing things like (a) making important facts up; or (b) passing off others' work as his own. As they explain, Colorado failed "to fully appreciate the 'scholar activist' and 'public intellectual' roles–roles that, on balance, expand and enrich the academic and journalistic enterprises–that Professor Churchill was clearly expected to fill." In other words, it's OK for "scholar-activists" to be plagiarists. How reassuring.

As bizarre as these claims are, other posts on the site attracted my attention. It's rare when professors openly admit that ideological litmus tests are OK, but Shortell manages to do so, criticizing NCATE's decision to drop the requirement that Education Schools individually assess the "disposition" of each and every prospective public school teacher to "promote social justice." The deposed former sociology chairman complains that:

The usual suspects (NAS, FIRE, etc.) were making a lot of noise about how any consideration of a commitment to social justice among dispositional qualities would be unfair to conservatives, who, it seems, find the notion of social justice objectionable.

Perhaps the New York state legislature should decree that all professors should demonstrate a "disposition" to promote "social justice," including a recognition of how religion is critical for producing a just future. My guess is that Prof. Shortell would then be far less enthusiastic about ideological litmus tests for employment as an educator.

[Ed: I reluctantly kept the derogatory parenthetical comments directed at two senior scholars so as not to be accused of altering the professor's comments. I also believe Professor Johnson may have "borrowed" those descriptions from David Horowitz, The Professors and might have cited his source and pp. 326, 328. What's fair is fair! The "Ralph" referred to is a Mr Ralph Luker who has repeatedly called me nasty names that frankly are more demeaning to him than to me. Yet name calling of professors is "protected speech" but not very artful and can be construed as lazy substitution for substantive argumentation.]

Why I Sign Defend Professor Churchill Petitions
by Peter N. Kirstein on July 31, 2006 at 7:30 PM

I agree that plagiarism is a very serious charge and such transgressions diminish the trust and credibility that academicians must have to carry out their scholarly functions.

I have signed several petitions in defence of Professor Churchill's academic freedom and the need to insure that his tenure not be discontinued. This is a link to one by Defend Critical

There were essentially two reasons for my decision to do this.
1) I have read a rather convincing critique of the allegations of plagiarism by Professor Tom Mayer, a C.U. professor of sociology, and have linked it for those wishing to consult it.                           
2) I believe this investigation of Professor Churchill was to a large extent politically inspired due to unpopular written assessments of the casualties of the 9/11 incidents in New York City.

The combination of this auto da fé and a reasonable defence of the charges of plagiarism are enough to convince me that terminating his continuous tenure would be a grave threat to academic freedom and the rights of professors to teach, to WRITE E-MAIL, to publish and to engage in public advocacy without intimidation or coercion.

As scholars, we cannot be driven by ideological intolerance of those with whom we disagree. Democracy is sustained by protecting and defending the capacity of university professors to function in an environment of freedom and tolerance. 

by Dean Saitta on August 2, 2006 at 1:31 PM

I think it's possible for a reasonable person to hold multiple and competing considerations in their head at the same time, and then make a principled judgment about a course of action according to the value assigned to each. It's not OK to make facts up. It's not OK to pass someone else's work off as your own. It's not OK to plagiarize. When plagiarism is first known or rumored, it's not OK to ignore it. It's not OK to hire someone to do something and then fire them for doing exactly that. It's not OK to succumb to external political pressure to scrutinize an academic's work when they say distasteful, but constitutionally-protected, things in the public square and on their own time. It's not OK for peer review to exclude peers from the reviewee's primary field of inquiry, especially when termination is a possible outcome. It's a consideration of all these "it’s not OK to’s", combined with other worries about the state of academic life in America today and particular attacks upon it, that led me to sign the petition.
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